Category Archives: public art

The Flowers and Chocolate of Decay: Anya Gallaccio’s art

In the period since ww2, art that involves nature or natural processes has taken diverse forms, from the huge spiral artworks of Robert Smithson created on the shore of the great Salt Lakes, to the walks of Richard Long through the English landscape, to Andy Goldsworthy’s ephemeral leaf or ice sculptures in outdoor settings. Within such art, there has always been the question: is the immediate experience of the natural world translatable into a gallery? As artists still want their work to be seen and thought about, for better or worse the gallery is the best place – whether in the form of exquisite photographs (eg of Goldsworthy’s sculptures), photographs taken with indifference to art or framing (eg of Smithson’s Spiral Jetty), or data about a walk offering ‘evidence’ of the artwork (eg Long).

Anya Gallaccio (born 1963, UK) has an intriguing way of including natural processes within gallery-based artwork. She creates site-specific installations, often using organic matter such as flowers, fruit, ice, wax and chocolate. An artist who came of age at the same time as the more famous Damien Hirst, Gallaccio challenges the traditional idea that artworks should be a monument within a museum or a gallery; she makes art which changes over time, rotting, melting, being oxydised. It is art about ‘process’ as much as ‘object’, like an unruly experiment, the end result of which cannot be predicted; and as such it is hard to document with a simple photograph – being principled, she refuses to take photos of her own art to sell. She also emphasises the personal experience of the viewer: her work lives on not as photographs that she exhibits but as memories in those who experienced it as well as in the idea of the artwork itself. The emphasis on personal experience puts one in mind of Anthony Gormley’s perceptive comment that art is about ‘reasserting our first hand experience in present time’.

preserve 'beauty' 1991-2003 by Anya Gallaccio born 1963

preserve ‘beauty’ 1991-2003

preserve 'beauty' 1991-2003 by Anya Gallaccio born 1963

Preserve Beauty 1991-2003

preserve 'beauty' 1991-2003 by Anya Gallaccio born 1963

Preserve Beauty 1991-2003

Some of Gallaccio’s artworks have been repeated at different sites. In ‘Preserve Beauty’ (1991-2003), between 1600 and 2000 red gardenias are arranged in four adjacent rectangular compositions underneath large panes of clear glass, with the flower heads facing out towards the viewer. Over time, the gardenias wither and die; as well as changes to the appearance of the work, there are changes to the smell in the gallery, and some flowers even fall out to rot on the floor. ‘Preserve Beauty’ has echoes of Dutch vanitas paintings of the 16th/17th century, which contained collections of objects symbolic of life’s transience and death’s inevitability – a meditation on decay, change, mortality.
The red gardenias, a mix of gerbera and daisies, are grown for commercial consumption and thus are a type of readymade according to Gallaccio – an everyday, often scentless and mass-produced object. These flowers are chosen as they blur the gap between ‘the natural’ and objects of a commodity culture. She explores this overlap between natural objects and those of disposable commodity culture, specifically in relation to the wastage and decay that is usually hidden from consumers. She has stated that, ‘we experience so much of the world at a mediated and sanitised distance, so I try to make art that is not complicit with this structure’.

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Red on Green 2012

In ‘Red on Green’ (2012) Gallaccio plucked the heads of 10,000 red roses and arranged them into large rectangle on a gallery floor. At first the installation might seem like a grand romantic gesture. However, Gallaccio’s interest is piqued in what the installation becomes over time. In a way, ‘Red on Green’ becomes a kind of natural performance as the field of red shifts to brown. The symbol of the rose is used as a starting point for meditating on the natural processes of death and decay.

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Stroke 1994

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For her installation ‘Stroke’ (2014-15), she constructed a room made of dark chocolate, inviting visitors to lick the walls if they so dared. The room was partly intended to be a feminine space in an art-world defined mostly by men: the artist sees her unusual material as one normally associated with the female domain and she thus brings the domestic out of the shadows, into the public arena. Painted in thick, gentle layers of chocolate, the room was dark and cavernous, a space to be entered into and experienced. The piece relied upon the viewer drawing meanings from the artwork, though it was as much about fantasy and anticipation as the actual (disappointing) experience of sitting in a chocolate room. As the artist explained, the real chocolate room was distinct from what one might have expected. As time wore on, the sweet odour turned sour; the chocolate, painted onto the walls, oxidised; insects moved into the space. More an encounter with decay and discomfort than with sensual pleasure.

Other works include Glaschu (1999), in which a pattern outline from a paisley carpet, drawn from flowers and foliage, pierces a thinly poured layer of cement floor in an elegant neo-classical interior, so that living verdure creeps from the meandering cracks. The theme of nature reclaiming its territory from human ruins is poignant.

More about Gallaccio can be found here https://www.blumandpoe.com/artists/anya-gallaccio

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‘Desert Breath’: A Spiral of Infinity by Arteam

desert breath

Desert Breath is a huge, stunning piece of spiral Land Art located at El Gouna, Egypt, where the immensity of the Red Sea meets that of the eastern Sahara desert. It was created in 1997 by a collective called D.A.ST. Arteam, whose members include installation artist Danae Stratou, industrial designer Alexandra Stratou and architect Stella Constantinides. The land art, breathtaking in its vision and scope, was intended as an exploration of infinity: ‘The project is rooted in our common desire to work in the desert. In our mind’s eye the desert was a place where one experiences infinity. We were addressing the desert as a state of mind, a landscape of the mind’ (Stratou 1998).

The spiral of Desert Breath covers an area of 100,000 square metres. In creating it, 8000 cubic metres of sand were displaced to create 89 positive and 89 negative cones of sand which become increasingly larger the further away they are from the centre. The 89 cones and 89 matching depressions spiral out from one another in two geometrically precise arms that increase in diameter progressively. In the centre is a 30m diameter vessel filled to the brim with water. The spiral is logarithmic – that is, one generated through an equation (though such spirals, also called miracle spirals, occur in nature).

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The work can be explored in two ways: as a visual image from a vantage point on a hill, and from the ground, walking the spiral pathway as a physical experience. From the vantage point, the shape of the spiral reveals itself fully, imagined by the artists as a kind of ‘breath’ in the desert. From the ground, the viewer walks from the outside inwards. At the outermost point, the sand cones are twice the height of a person and have a diameter of 15m, but walking towards the centre, they successively diminish in scale, though this happens so gradually the viewer often doesn’t notice. At some point, the viewer realises they are now about the same height as the cone, engendering the curious, almost Alice in Wonderland, sensation that they have shifted in scale, grown larger as they walk.

Numerous small-scale experimental models were initially made by Arteam in Greece before the piece was finally constructed in Egypt. The actual work was undertaken by a large Egyptian construction company, supervised by Arteam.

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Made in 1997, Desert Breath still exists, slowly disintegrating, so an instrument to register the passage of time. It can be seen on Google Earth at coordinates 27°22’54.59″N, 33°37’48.46″E. A video of the artwork and its construction can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZbTWE5XWoU

 

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Windspirals and hanging pods: the art of Bromwyn Berman

The Australian artist Bromwyn Berman makes public and installation art as well as sculpture, drawings and paintings. Her alluring works relate intimately to, and reflect on, the natural world. The art seeks to ‘encourage a respect for our place in the evolution of landscape as part of the processes of nature.’ Organic signs and symbols recur – spirals, circles, pods, mandalas, honeycomb forms – and she uses a variety of materials, including copper wire, aluminium, stainless steel, stones, mulberry paper, bees wax, tree roots, charcoal, plant remains from rivers. These natural and man-made materials ‘evidence our interface with nature.’

Berman 3

Windspiral 2006

Berman windspiral

Her public artworks and larger sculptural installations focus on landscape and natural systems; they speak to what she calls ‘our inner knowing of the earth body.’ Her studio practice, paper works, drawings and small sculpture explore ‘the simplest and most basic signifiers of natural systems’; they inquire into ‘archetypal forms of geometry as well as themes of the recurring mysteries that form the foundation of our experience.’ She believes in a deep collective consciousness, which art can put humans in touch with. Some might say this puts her within a visionary or spiritual aesthetic tradition, though her work is viscerally grounded, in roots, branches, copper wire, mulberry paper.

The breathtaking ‘Windspiral’ (2006), made of aluminium and stainless steel with timber support (120cm x 300cm x 300cm), was installed at the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition, Sydney, 2006. Berman says, ‘The shape is that of the wind, the colour and texture are the Australian bush where things are silvery and scratchy.’ The inspiration for this work came from living high on a cliff in the Australian bush as well a joyful day spent making artwork with a friend in this special windy place. She has made various other ‘Windspirals’ for different locations.

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Banksia Women

Her series of ‘Banksia Women’ (2011), pods woven from copper with river stones (140cm x 50cm x 50cm), were exhibited in various locations across Australia. The pod, Berman believes, is a deeply ‘known’ form, an ‘encapsulation of life to come, a concentration or distillation of all that is complex in nature, containing seeds of new life or… the promise of transformation to new form.’

Berman - the Portal

The Portal

‘The Portal’ (2013) is a circle of aluminium and stainless steel (120cm x 120cm x 20cm) suspended in woodland. Again, we have an organic form that may elicit a response from an ‘inner knowing’; and a form that suggests a liminal place or doorway with all the associations of transition and transformation. The work was exhibited at Sculpture at Scenic World, 2013.

Her ‘River to River: Interwoven Landscapes’ exhibitions at the Penrith Regional Gallery, Australia (2014), included various wonderfully titled sculptures and artworks: ‘Murmurings’ (215cm x 215cm x 30cm) is a mandala made from fragments of Casurina (River Oak) roots nailed onto paper; ‘There is another alphabet’ (25cm x 22cm x13cm) is made of Japanese mulberry paper, Moulin Delaroc paper and waxed Linen thread, with the paper contact-printed with plants from the Nepean River; and ‘You and I have floated on the stream’ (300cm x 60cm x 50cm) is an animated river of paper contact-printed with plants from the Nepean River and with Casurina roots.

Berman - The Murmurings

The Murmurings 2014

Berman - there is anothe alphabet

There is another alphabet 2014

berman - you and I have floated on the stream 2014

You and I have floated on the stream

 

Berman’s beautiful, enigmatic art changes the viewer, inspires them and engenders reflection; her pieces speak of the natural world and our place within it, using a language rooted in a material alphabet, one of paper, tree branches, thread, wax.

More about the artist can be found on her website (where quotes here were taken from) http://www.bronwynberman.com.au

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Slate Whirlpools – the Environmental Art of Chris Drury

Chris Drury (1948-) is a British artist who creates site-specific land art and installation art using natural materials which are locally sourced. He also produces videos, sculpture, mixed media works, prints, and paintings. His work explores the connection between realms – nature and culture, microcosm and macrocosm, the inner and the outer, the fluid and the static. He likes to work collaboratively – with scientists, technicians, native peoples, anthropologists, geologists  – and his work reflects on the nature of place and of humans within that.

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Winnemucca Whirlwind, 2008

Drury came of age at a time of land art giants such as Robert Smithson (1938-73). Like Smithson, his art addresses our relationship to the natural world, meditating on ecological, historical, and cultural themes. Winnemucca Whirlwind (2008), a work 300 feet across and based on a native American basket design, was raked by hand (over 18 hours) into the dry lakebed of Lake Winnemucca, Nevada. Although placed on Government land, it was only visible from a high point on the Paiute Indian Reservation. The work eventually disappeared into the dusty desert air, leaving nothing behind. ‘The drawing metaphorically reclaimed the land for the Paiute Nation since all of the land was once their hunting grounds. In the 1800’s Winnemucca was a shallow lake, rich in fish and wildfowl, but in the early 1900’s the government diverted part of the Truckee river, which flows into Pyramid and Winnemucca lakes, for irrigation of farming lands. This ecologically insane idea resulted in Pyramid Lake dropping 80 feet and Winnemucca drying out. The devastation this caused to vital Paiute fisheries is still felt today and the Paiute Nation continue to fight for their water and fishery rights through the courts’ (http://chrisdrury.co.uk/winnemucca-whirlwind/#)

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Winnemucca Whirlwind, 2008

Carbon Sink (2011), placed on the grounds of the University of Wyoming, hit a raw nerve with the local coal industry and state legislators – Wyoming is home to the US’s largest coal mine and the state benefits from the taxes on this industry. Carbon Sink is a tangible, concrete metaphor of the destruction of forests by pine beetles due to climate change. The piece, 14m in diameter, is made from beetle-killed pine logs and coal. Both these materials, once living trees, died during times of climate warming.  At present, the burning of fossils fuels is giving rise to ‘warmer winters in the Rockies, as a result the pine beetle survive the winters and the forests in the Rockies are dying from New Mexico to British Columbia – a catastrophic event…Children born now will never know what a wild Mountain Forest looks like, and there will be fires and erosion in the mountains which will effect all living things’ (http://chrisdrury.co.uk/carbon-sink/)

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Carbon Sink, 2010

As well as large outdoor works with environmental and cultural resonance, Drury creates impressive sculptures and installations for galleries, again from natural materials. Mushroom Cloud (2010, 2.3m x5m) was made from 6000 dried fungi slices set in acrylic and suspended by nylon wire from a steel shell at The Malaga Costa Barn, Sella Arts, Sella Valley, Italy. A beautiful, haunting work that looms above the viewer and draws associations between natural and human realms – the mushroom and the atomic bomb.

mushroom cloud

Mushroom Cloud, 2010

Heart of Stone (2004, 500x830x30 cm), exhibited in the Stephen Lacey Galley, London, uses thousands of fragments of slate laid within a wood frame. The whirlpool form of Heart of Stone is taken from blood flow patterns in the heart, and is similar to a public artwork Drury created at the Russell Hall Hospital, Dudley, UK.

heart of stone

Heart of Stone

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Night Vision

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Night Blur by Whimsylph

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Night Shapes by Whimsylph

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Moons on trees and glowing nocturnal bananas by Whimsylph

“When the darkness takes you
With her hand across your face
Don’t give in too quickly
Find the thing she’s erased

Find the line, find the shape
Through the grain
Find the outline, things will
Tell you their name….

I would shelter you
Keep you in light
But I can only teach you
Night vision”

Suzanne Vega

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A Found Alley Gallery: Involuntary Abstraction

‘Art’s whatever you choose to frame’ (Fleur Adcock)

In a local alleyway, we find a series of three abstract artworks on the side of an abandoned, boarded-up building. Each appears to be by a different (local?) artist and in a distinct style of abstraction.

Found Alley Gallery

Found Alley Gallery

From left to right in the photo above (see also individual photos below), the first artwork, Involuntary Abstraction by Nicholson Haddock, is rather raw and gestural in its forms, with graffiti layered over parts; the second, Parallel Textures by Anne Dinsky, is more textural and subtle in execution, with muted grey and sandy colours and vertical white parallel lines; the third, The Vertigo of Vision by Joan Biro, is a dense work with a fuzzy, anarchic composition that moves the eye around dizzyingly – this artwork is mainly black and white, but has spots of blue and half-erased words in red.

On the bottom corner of the third artwork (see photo below) appears the Fleur Adcock quote: ‘Art’s whatever you choose to frame’. Does this mean these artworks have been ‘framed’ by adding titles/names, so the public can see them not as abandoned, boarded-up windows but as involuntary or ‘found’ art? A Duchampian or conceptual intervention in a public space?

Involuntary Abstraction Nicholson Haddock, 2015

Involuntary Abstraction
Nicholson Haddock, 2015

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Parallel Textures Anne Dinsky, 2015

Parallel Textures
Anne Dinsky, 2015

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The Vertigo of Vision Joe Biro, 2015

The Vertigo of Vision
Joe Biro, 2015

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‘We Wanted to Be the Sky’: Tim Etchell’s public neon signs.

From the Thames Festival, London, 2010

From the Thames Festival, London, 2010

The British artist Tim Etchells (b.1962) creates huge neon signs with brief phrases, which are placed in public spaces. The phrases are short and simple yet unfinished and somehow mysterious, inviting the viewer into a fragmented story.

The phrases may make sense on first impression but “there is something in their apparent simplicity that carries an undertow,” he says. They may unsettle or confuse, prompt reflection or self-reflection. Something remains incomplete within them: “the viewer becomes implicated in a situation that is never fully revealed.”

The neon signs, almost like giant text messages, are ‘encountered’ in everyday settings, in the streets, on public buildings, on rooftops, at public events. Many have been made for a specific place or event, such as ‘We Wanted to Be the Sky’, for the Thames Festival, London (2010), and ‘The Things You Can’t Forget’, for the Wintergarden Pavilion in Weston-super-Mare (2010). To give an idea of scale, the former is 15 metres long, 1 metre tall and made from stainless steel and programmable LEDs.

From The Wintergarden Pavilion, Weston-super-Mare

From The Wintergarden Pavilion, Weston-super-Mare

The works are concerned with opening mental space for the viewer, with the emphasis on the person being addressed rather than on the speaking subject implied by the work itself. Maybe they are a formal rendering of the fragments of words we glimpse or overhear daily but don’t really pay attention to, on the train, on the radio, in newspapers, in the street.

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